Ever since I chose the Short Film module, I knew what I wanted out of it – I wanted to try and challenge myself. I wanted to Lead a team of people, and I wanted to Direct a film.
I have never really been a leader in my life. I am a driver, I make things happen, but usually it’s all individual engagement, so I don’t think that’s anywhere as near as being a group leader. I knew from previous projects that I always had a strong opinion, and I’d often tried to persuade people in groups I’d been part of to follow it. There are two main problems with that:
- You may weaken the current leader’s position, which doesn’t do good to a group.
- You are not owning your truth. If you really believe in what you’re talking about, and you want it to happen, you should be walking the walk, not just talking the talk. Everyone could have a good idea when not in charge, but try and balance all of what comes with being on the front line with having good ideas… That’s where the challenge lies.
Of course, I never quite realised what trying to be a leader meant until I did it myself. I didn’t appreciate you’re no longer ‘the specialist’. You don’t need to have all the answers. You don’t need to always be right. And you definitely shouldn’t try and be the only one who talks, and the only one who acts. But that’s what I learned after I made these mistakes. Throughout most of the project period, I wasn’t a particularly good leader.
The second challenge was directing. I knew that I can make things (and creative projects) happen, I knew how things (generally) tend to work, I knew my way around the process and technicalities – so that was no challenge for me. Yes, I would have probably benefitted from more experience with camera operation, but I decided there would be better times for that. Here, I wanted to finally make things the way I envisioned them, to be able to influence and make decisions. I also wanted to work closely with actors, and to challenge myself in communicating my vision to both cast and crew.
I think the biggest mistake I made was expecting the project to run the way I understood things. In a group of 4, and later 6 people, there is more than one way to do things, and often more than one is right. People are motivated (or not) by different things, their actions (or inactions) are affected by different things, so you can’t just assume things will happen the way you expect.
For me, I was motivated and devoted to my two main challenges – to be a leader, and to direct. I took the project very personally. I wanted to prove to myself, and probably to the world, that after all these years of hard work as an individual, focusing on organisational, admin and technical stuff, I knew enough to do More; to be More. Of course, my intertia initially told me to just do more of what I’d always been doing – so I got stuck in details, micro-managing tasks, and getting overly involved with technical frustrations.
Little did I know that what was actually expected from me was to do Less. I had to step down so people can step up and own their roles in the project the same way as I did. I had to create the space for people to try and do the work, to experiment, to get frustrated…
Instead, every time I saw there was even the slightest chance of things not going the way I envisioned them, I just took the control back. I was acting from fear, from the fear of looking bad, not living up to people’s (and my own) expectations, the fear of failing. There was lots of panic, and every time something went wrong (and things always go wrong), I was just seeing it as ‘a proof’ that we’re not on the right track, and that everything is falling apart.
This of course meant that instead of letting people make mistakes and learn from them, I took on a lot of responsibility, and as result, pressure and stress. Not sharing the responsibility means not sharing the mistakes, the failures, and even more tragically – not sharing the successes.
At some point, I did start to understand I was doing a lot of things wrong. I wasn’t quite sure to what extent I can rely on the technical ability in the group (something I am quite confident with, so I really thought I knew what had to be done) – but this time, instead of just panicking and thinking what a terrible situation this was, I did something different. I decided I can work with my weaknesses and uncertainty and use them to my advantage – and to the advantage of the project. So I was still not quite trusting some team members – but at least I decided I’ll give them a few chances, test them, see what exactly we can rely on and what not, and then make judgments.
This proved useful. I was able to appreciate the talent and creative potential in the group, see where people’s actual limitations were (not the ones I imagined), see how we can best collaborate; I could see where they needed support and try to provide them support, and make decisions based on that.
So for some people, it worked best to give them specific tasks plus a little creative freedom; for others, they needed to have just a general idea what is needed from them, and then they’d come up with something great, much better than expected. Some needed lots of feedback and reassurance they’re doing the right thing for the project; others were confident in what they were doing and didn’t need any of that. There were people who never felt they were doing enough, and others that felt that they were doing enough while they were actually busier with just worrying about the work. A bit like me – I did that a lot. Instead of doing the work, just panicking about how much there was to do…
A lot of this, of course, proved quite unhelpful for the project. Instead of experimenting around, trying out different ideas and making our mistakes and successes early in time, we were moving slowly and fearfully with lots of effort and pressure. We didn’t experiment enough, so we didn’t quite know what we were doing until very late.
However, there is something very beautiful in crises.
I, personally, am a big fan of crises. I believe in being direct, honest, telling the truth – because that’s when you don’t have any other choice but to make things work. You can say anything because it’s ‘crisis time’, and that’s when real issues come up and can be tackled.
We had a big crisis in the group just one week before the deadline. It was the result of postponed and not tackled issues building up and then showing up in our work. You can’t do anything creative when you’re in that space of fear and distrust – so the work we presented, even though it may have been ‘good enough’ didn’t have a soul. So we finally had a reason to have an honest conversation about what was going on, and then take it from there.
And we did.
I’ll say this again. There is something very beautiful in crises. When the clock is ticking, when the pressure is building, when there’s no other choice but to do something good, people get motivated and get creative.
We regained our power, we were finally working as a group (which hadn’t happened since the ideas development stage of the project)… We left ourselves enough time to deal with the crisis, too. Even though it felt like one week was too short, we didn’t do much for another two days – we just really needed to step back a bit, gain a little perspective, and come back with fresh minds and spirits. This time, we trusted the time. I know I did. I trusted the energy would just shift, and things would turn out OK. I did get my fair bit of panic, but it was much less than I would have usually created for myself.
The bottom line is that we wrote, cast, filmed and edited a short film in three days. And we think it’s good. It has a soul. We all felt great making it. It was amazing looking around the room, everyone focused and dedicated to their roles, and more importantly, to the project.
This time we didn’t disappoint. We made NUFilm Productions proud.